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Date of Award

6-1989

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Supervisor

Dr. Brian John

Abstract

To some extent, Charles Tomlinson has been the victim--and continues to be--of two general trends in criticism. On the one hand, in America, as a post-war British poet, he suffers from the scant attention accorded to this group by American critics. On the other hand, in Britain, as a postwar British poet with strong American influences, he suffers a similar neglect at the hands of British critics. Tomlinson himself, both as a poet and as a critic, has sought to break down the British barriers to outside cultural influence. More than many poets, he has developed a poetic which is bound up with the idea of influence. The idea of influence is related to a number of important issues both in Tomlinson's poetry and poetic and to modern poetry generally: to the idea of modernist internationalism, to the strained relations between modern British and American poets, to translation, and, perhaps most importantly for his work, to the idea of chance and the poetic self.

This thesis examines the problem of the self in the poetry of Charles Tomlinson by reading it within the dialectic of possessiveness and possibility which he describes in the Preface to his Collected Poems (1985). My first chapter considers Tomlinson's approach to these issues in relation to Harold Bloom's theory of influence and to recent theories of literary entitling and metaphor. After examining a number of ways by which Tomlinson endeavours to defend his poetic space of possibility, the chapter concludes by showing how p pervasive and important is his poetic of misperception or chance.

My second chapter considers the influence of Wallace Stevens's poetry and poetics on Tomlinson and tries to set that relationship in the more general context of the British reception of--more often, resistance to--Stevens's writing. Tomlinson was most indebted to Stevens in his early volume, The Necklace. Since that time, he has sought to distance himself from his American mentor's rhetoric and theory. However, Tomlinson maintains a strong interest in his poetry and, to some extent, Tomlinson may derive a poetic of misperception from his work.

Each of the subsequent chapters discusses a different aspect of possessiveness and possiblity. Chapters three and four look at both the ideal, Edenic facet of locality, and at the most significant features, for Tomlinson's poetry, of actual places. His attack on cultural insularity is bound up with his aesthetic of giving the thing its due: to go outward to things is akin to going out to other cultures. My final chapter examines the broadest implications of Tomlinson's dialectic, in his travel and political poems: the centre of his poetic concerns.

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